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Sony Music's trance compilation 'The First Trip'


Dance, trance and remixes

Modern technology combines with our fetish for speed to give us genres like trance

What is common to surrealism, synesthesia and trance? Surrealism is the painter's talent of looking at ordinary objects and discovering strange facets to them. Synesthesia is the mind's ability to translate one sensory perception into another, for example, musical sounds into colours. Trance, which is the name of a genre of music now being played at clubhouse parties, can't lay claim to classy aesthetics, but it still aspires to heighten your state of mind.

Trance adds to the long list of music genres that modern technology has spawned. In the '70s and the '80s if you asked people what a DJ was, they told you that he was the one who played songs on the radio or at the club. In the late '80s and the '90s if you asked the same question they said he was the guy who remixed tunes by adding his own beat. Disc jockeys have moved on since, and now don the role of psychedelic gurus using modern beats and sounds to show you the path to ecstasy.

DJs generally remix dissimilar tracks, take snippets from popular songs and morph the voices into electronic sounds. They then level them into one tempo and play around with the beat, raising it here, silencing it there, and changing it completely elsewhere. They also use synthesized sounds that do not resemble any acoustic instrument.

Trance originated in Europe, and Germany is home to at least one variety of this music. Goa now gives its name to another. DJs in this holiday paradise use ancient chants and hymns and add an exotic Indian flavour to the proceedings.

Trance gives the original music a harsh feel; it's louder than dance music from somebody like, say, Lisa Stansfield. In Lisa's music you hear soft violins in the background as her voice carries the main melody. You can dance to her music, or just listen to it. Not so with trance: it hits hard on the ears and has a frenzied quality to it.

This genre reverses the religious definition of trance. In religious discourse meditation is the path to a trance-like state; you relax as the first step to a heightened awareness. Here the nerves get taut and the bludgeoning rhythm is expected to give you a high. Perhaps trance is a reflection of the breathless age we live in, where slowness is associated not with meditation and thought but with boredom and inaction.

Trance generally is dance music with a repetitive, spiralling electronic beat. Like rock and pop, trance has branched out into sub-genres. That's how you now hear of acid trance, techno trance, Goa trance and meditative trance.

Trance and DJs go together. It's rare to find original trancers, or musicians who make only trance music. The DJ is the one who chooses existing numbers; he then edits them to suit the sort of trance sound he is looking for.

DJs borrow from rock, pop and reggae. They then mix in live their own sound effects and beats and get the house moving. One of the DJs I spoke to felt that listening to trance music was like being on a roller coaster ride, with its thrilling ups and queasy downs.

The remix world

Remixes are also popular as dance music. Remix music is clear about what it wants to do: make old songs sound 'new'. This outrages many people. Jesudas, the south Indian playback singer who has sung in Hindi too, feels remixes take a song out of its original context and ruin it with unnecessary electronic ornamentation. The remixers' defence is that they are introducing classic tunes to a new generation.

Take Bally Sagoo. He thrives mainly on other artistes' hits and puts in a beat to which you can dance. He changes everything except the main melody line. In some cases, as in Asha Bhonsle's offering of R D Burman tunes, Rahul and I, the original singer comes back to do the remix. In Bally Sagoo's albums, the singer is usually not the one who sang the original. In his latest album Bollywood Flashback 2, Gunjan, a new find, sings the slow melody Noorie instead of Lata Mangeshkar.

The taboo question is, "Is she good, if not as good?" Remix albums don't much care. Even people with faint, unexpressive voices can carry off remixes because the beat can always cover up their weak singing.

Is today's audience averse to the music its moms and grandmas liked? Yes and no. The same old tunes are being recycled, but the orchestra has changed. Of course music television contributes to the popularity of remixes. So away they go grinding out the heavy bass and the electronic drum. The sound is hep, with the synths making merry while real instruments and even the idea of making original music are shown the door.

Ultimately remixes are like elevator music. They have a specific purpose, above which they seldom rise. Remixes will come of age the day we are touched not just by the original tune but also by the original, new dimension the remixer has brought in.

S Suchitra Lata

Read review of The First Trip, a Sony Music trance compilation

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